I have been vegetarian for around a month and a half now, and it has been going very well. One of the challenges is that I know I’m not supposed to eat lard. I didn’t really know what lard was before writing this blog, but I knew that it was some kind of animal product that is commonly used in food. Because of this, I decided to dive into what lard is and why it is used so much. Because they are similar, I will also be discussing gelatin in this blog.
Lard is a creamy white liquid that is obtained by separating the fat in pork from the meat. This means that it is not vegetarian, as it is pure animal fat. It is used in the same ways butter and cooking oil, and it is used so commonly because of its versatility. It doesn't smoke at high temperatures, so works well for high heat cooking and frying. It also has less saturated fat than butter and it doesn’t have any trans fat. That being said, lard is still animal fat, so it has the same cons as eating other animal fats. There are many great substitutes for lard, a lot of which are also healthier.
The closest substitute for lard in taste, texture, and how it cooks is butter. Unsalted butter in small quantities is not terribly bad for you and can be switched in for lard in almost every instance. Butter is a dairy product so it is off the table for vegans, but it is totally within the boundaries of vegetarian diets. Vegetable shortening (margarine) is a vegan product that is very similar to butter and lard. It is made with vegetable oils and has a higher flash point than butter, making it a better substitute for lard, though it is isn’t very healthy. The healthiest (and in my opinion best) substitutes for lard are vegetable oils. There are many different types of vegetable oils, and some are much worse in health, flavor, and environmental impact than others, so some research is required, but they are generally better in all three categories than the other products mentioned. That being said, they are very different than lard, so recipes may have to be modified a little.
Gelatin is a protein obtained by boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones of cows or pigs with water. It is used in many shampoos, face masks, and other cosmetics to make hair shinier, and it is used in candies and other dessert treats as a thickener. While gelatin is common, it is much easier to avoid than lard because it is used less frequently and only in certain types of food. Also, there are some vegan gelatins out there to try if you need to use a gelatin-like product in something.
There are always vegan and vegetarian options to cook with, you just have to experiment until you find something you like. At restaurants, you can just ask the waiter if they use lard or gelatin, and they will usually know. While there are many challenges in having an eco-friendly diet, it is totally possible and 100% worth it.
Photo credit: The Splendid Table